By time Janelle Monae struck a pose atop a throne only four songs into her tour-de-force concert at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Saturday, she’d already sealed the deal with clarion vocals, Afro-futuristic fashion and fluid choreography. Yet it wasn’t all about her — or her four frisky dancers or six versatile musicians. “Where are my queens?” the pop-R&B singer/actress shouted to cheers from the sold-out crowd before playing the song “Q.U.E.E.N.,” the double meaning of her call-out surely intended in Monae’s wide-open world for gender, race and sexual orientation.
And the party was just getting started. Having dropped her mysterious android alter-ego, Monae seized her own freedom as a performer, embracing an earthy rapport with the audience to balance the precision of her near-two-hour show, which showcased her new third album Dirty Computer and blew beyond its synthetic coolness.
Monae impressively sang, rapped, danced, played some guitar and oozed empowerment. She teased with puffy labia-like ruffles hugging the inside front of her pants in the slinky, provocative “Pynk,” drawing screams for her roving hand. She pointed out some colorful shirts and hairstyles in the crowd, complimenting “all the things that make you unique” on self-love anthem “I Like That.” And she invited several fans to take turns onstage and “dance like your life depended on it” during funky show-stopper “I Got the Juice” (holding each fan’s hand for a personal touch) before rocking older numbers “Cold War” and “Tightrope” while bandmates boogied forward to share the spotlight.
The singer also flashed the political jets in favor of unity and equality, decrying child separation, depression, suicide and racism, born through footage of civil-rights battles in “So Afraid,” which purposely segued into the flag-backed set-closer “Americans,” where she sang “Love me for who I am, I’m American!”
At the end of the main set, Monae cried “Thank all the greats who came before me” and dropped to her knees a la James Brown, a key influence on her style and stage moves alongside Michael and Janet Jackson and mentor Prince. And if her acclaimed albums still fall short of comparably classic songs (although her melodic new “Make Me Feel” sealed its status as a hook-heavy gem at the Pavilion), Monae’s shout-out implied her own level of greatness. Yet as a performer, she cracked that ceiling with one of the best shows in a busy summer (even opposite Foo Fighters at Fenway and Eagles at the Garden the same night). Damn, it had to be one of the shows of the year.